The Winner of the 2002 Sixth Annual Imitate Keeler Competition:
Turn Up on Time!
by Gavin L. O'Keefe
Quodlum Bodeckerhedron -- Q.B. to his friends -- "Cue-Ball" to his non-friends, in honor of his bulbous cranium! -- closed the book and put it onto the table which was, apart from his chair, the only piece of furniture in the room. A bulb hanging from the ceiling cast a weak light.
He nodded his large head pensively as he surveyed the cover of the book before him. The dustjacket showed a haunting, sombre design, parading a garishness so typical of 1930's mystery books.
"We-ee-eell," he muttered sepulchrally. "Ne'er 'av I read sich a buk in all m' days! I'God, 'uz an odd day 'ndid w'en ol' Hemlock Stipple come to wizzit me an' give thus here buk t' me as m' b'laytered bur'day prizzint! 'Nd me, wot's on'y one t' rid Wissterns! But dat buk's title got me in stra't off: 'The Myst'ry o' the Missin' Mannequin'. I 'uz rill 'ntrigged raht frum the stat!"
Bodeckerhedron's right hand moved to rest on the book's cover, his fingers gently fondling the dustjacket. His thumb did not partake in this tactile play, however: Bodeckerhedron had lost that digit years before in an altercation which, strangely, had also involved his acquaintance Hemlock Stipple.
Impulsively, Bodeckerhedron again opened the book and he began to read aloud to himself:
The Mystery of the Murdered Mannequin
a criminal fantasy
by Harry Stephen Keeler
"Now what kinda goddanged name izzat fur a n'awther! ' 'Arree'st 'Even Killer'? Bah!" Q.B.'s outburst over the author's monicker suddenly modulated, and his voice took on a gentler cadence as he re-read the novel's title. " 'The Myst'ry o' the Missin' Mannequin' -- now 'at's what I call a rill coorious name of a buk. I noo th' minit I's read that there ty-tell that I 'ad me a ree-yall in'errestin' read on me hands. 'Caze, tho' I jest love dem Wissterns o' mine, it 'uz 'bout time I 'ad me a diff'ent kinda buk t' ree-yad!"
He turned the page and read on:
In gratitude for the numerous pieces of recondite information supplied me when I most needed them for my work.
Bodeckerhedron exploded once more.
"Wha'! I ne'er read 'at bit b'faw! Musta bin 'caze o' these 'ere two pages bein' slightly stuck tugither b'faw. We-ell, I nivver -- dat scoundrel Stipple musta known this 'ere Killer fella in the ol' days. Hrmph! Mebbe 'at's why Stipple give me the buk, 'caze he thawt I'd be 'mpressed by his knowing 'The Awther'. Hm. Don't know no-how 'bout dat!"
Q.B. suddenly fished a large silver turnip from his inside left coat pocket, and inspected it -- noted the time as 10:45 p.m..
"On'y five min'ts t' go, a'ready! I guess I'd best do what Unckie B.'s will says I gotta do ef'n I's to git that $100,000 of his'n. All right! Yowsah -- that ol' fool 'uz one crazzy houn'-dawg. Still, better go thro' 'ith it fur m' own sake."
Bodeckerhedron unenthusiastically reached into his right coat pocket and withdrew a large pale yellow turnip. Held the gnarled specimen before his eyes. Nodded his head in puzzlement.
"Mmmm. Ef'n Unckie B. says I gotta take a munch from this 'ere veggy-tibble at ezackly 10:50 pee-yem, 'caze by doin' it, 'at'll pruv 'is'n goddanged 'speriment 'bout time trivvel -- an' he reckons it'll do me a whole lotta good, too! -- 'caze his will sez onct I trivvel to my own foocher, I'll not on'y not want, or need, $100,000 -- bot I'll find all m' drims'll come true. Not on'y all that, bot I 'ave t' do th' munchin' of th' fool toornip in this 'ere chair, placed e-zackly on this bit of floor in this werry room. Somep'n t' do 'ith 'spay-seal cow-ordinuts'! Nuts t' that!"
Q.B. again took up his silver turnip, and checked the time. 10:49 and 30 seconds p.m. He took the other turnip -- the organic one! -- and raised it to his mouth, a look of distaste marking his features. Q.B.'s aversion to the consumption of turnips was due to the fact that his parents had worked a turnip farm during his boyhood. Everything had been "turnip this" and "turnip that" for so long that his dream had been to forsake that legume forever.
Now that only seconds remained until 10:50 p.m., Q.B. raised the vegetable, closed his eyes, opened his mouth in a grimace, and bit down.
* * * * * *
He seemed to be awakening from a deep sleep, so vague were his thoughts as consciousness began to coalesce. Each simple thought was a struggle to tease into being -- a mental blank multiplied by 100! The surreal dream he'd apparently been having -- one where he'd been unwillingly eating a raw turnip in a foreign room, not from desperate hunger but because of a condition in his uncle's will -- began to become more actual memory than dream.
The first thing Bodeckerhedron -- and it took him a few minutes to recall that that was his name! -- noticed was that the light in the room seemed brighter. So much brighter that it dazzled his eyes. As cog after cog began to revolve once more within his mind, Q.B. remembered where he was, and why.
"Same room, same me, and there's that same damn turnip on the table where I must have put it down after taking a bite. And -- " And he quickly took out his metal turnip, " -- and time is now 11:01 p.m. So I've been 'out' for about 11 minutes, give or take a second. But why does that light over my head seem brighter? Maybe it's me coming out of my sleep, which I obviously fell into -- I was feeling sleepy even hours ago. Now my head's clearer for it, and I'm seeing things more vividly.
"As for Uncle Boho's spurious theories about time travel enabled by the combination of special coÜrdinates with the ingestion of specific foodstuffs, we-ell╔ I feel sorry for the old man. Plumb crazy of course. If I can keep quiet enough about his will, Professor Boho Bodeckerhedron might be remembered just kindly enough by posterity."
Quodlum Bodeckerhedron reached for the book he'd been reading x minutes before. As he picked it up, he seemed momentarily puzzled.
"Mmm. That's curious. This book seems less heavy than it felt before. I distinctly remember that it was quite heavy before, being so big and all. In fact, it not only seems lighter, it's smaller in size. I even believe I could carry this book around in my coat pocket!"
Q.B. opened the novel and read the title page as he'd done x moments prior, in another effort at determining that his gnawing on a vegetable in this room at 10:50 p.m. had not resulted in his passing through a considerable, and normally untraversable, space of time:
The Mystery of the Pilfered Saw-Horse
a fantastic crime
Henry Stetson Keller
"Well, that pretty much sounds like the same book as I enjoyed not so long ago, the same one that Hemlock gave me. And -- as I turn the page again -- I see the same dedication by the author to Tipple -- which dedication page I missed initially because of the pages having adhered together. It's definitely the same book, because there's that same singular author's name: 'Henry Stetson Keller'."
Q.B. musingly read the beginning of the first chapter of the book:
A RATTLESNAKE ON THE LOOSE!
Sheriff Clem Whipwaggon, stalwart Strong Arm-of-the-Law in Shelby County, stood patiently, hands on hips, wide-rimmed black hat shading his bullet-shaped head from the sun overhead, as the young lad, clad in checkered hickory shirt and torn trousers, the latter held up by only a bit of tied rope, buffeted him with a torrent of anxious words -- words which seemed to trip over themselves as the boy attempted to convey his plight to the lawman. But Whipwaggon's patience shortly ran out.
"Whoa, boy! Slow dahn them words o' yers! I's a-hearin' what you say, bot not makin' much sense of it. Now then, count yerself fr'm 1 t' 10, then tell it t' m' 'gayne. 'Nd slower-like, nex' time!"
The boy took heed of the Sheriff's importuning, and, after counting off "10", resumed.
"Well, Sheriff, lahk I 'uz trine t' tell ya, me Pa -- ya know's me Pa is Fred Noggin, the town carp'nter -- I tol' yo' me nam's Billy Noggin, no? -- ennyways, Sheriff, som theevin' snake's gawn 'n' stole Pa's saw-horse╔
Bodeckerhedron closed the book and moved to put it back down on the table.
"Good fellow, that Hemlock Tipple. Knows my reading tastes, and what a thoughtful birthday present to give me, knowing I'd just love another one of those classic Western novels!"
But as Q.B.'s hand, with book in it, moved towards the table, a small object slipped from the book and fluttered to the floor. Bodeckerhedron leaned down and retrieved the small piece of folded paper, which had obviously lain hidden inside the spine of the book. He unfolded the paper to a much larger sheet. Bodeckerhedron found one side of it filled with type-written words followed by a handwritten signature. And looking first to the signature, Bodeckerhedron saw his uncle's name, proving that this document had been written by one Boho Bodeckerhedron! He wasted no time in reading it:
As you are now reading this, I am happier than I can tell you, and for two reasons.
Firstly, your reading this proves my time-travel theories were correct, and that, by following my precise directions, you have travelled through time some 70 years! A fact! If you haven't yet set foot outside that room, you may yet be sceptical. But in a short time all will be revealed, including the fact, as I stated in my will, that the $100,000 I bequeathed you won't be wanted or needed by you, since it no longer exists!
What you will find when you re-enter civilization is that the 'offspring' of that original $100,000, which I invested in various institutions before I died, has grown to a greater amount, even by my conservative estimates of 70 years 'ago'! And that your means will be such that you will not need, nor therefore want, $100,000!
The second reason for my happiness is that you have regained two things more important in life than money. The first: a return to the consumption of turnips, those beneficial vegetables, and which my brother -- your good father -- once farmed. May you enjoy turnips until your dying day!
Finally, the most important thing you have regained, which, apart from making you feel a 'whole' man again, will ultimately prove that my experiment worked. My apologies to you for having worked things this way -- serious advances often require serious actions! I planned that altercation between Tipple and yourself, that drunken night: Tipple was to engage you, in gentlemanly mien, in an impromptu sword fight at his rooms. You know the rest: a thrust of Hemlock's weapon and your thumb was severed. You were distressed, of course, when your thumb couldn't be found, and it was supposed that a rat had taken it down some nearby hole. I blush to admit I had paid Tipple to gain your thumb and hide it on his person, within a custom-made vacuum container designed to keep it protected while it remained apart from you. Tipple later conveyed the digit to me.
I'll tell you now that one of those 'institutions' in which I invested my $100,000 specialized in the then pioneering field of microsurgery. And which institution, if I know anything about ingenuity in the field of medicine, will have grown in expertise in the intervening decades, and will have catered for those many thousands of unfortunates whose bodily extremities have gotten cropped!
So, I hope you'll forgive me, Quodlum. I wish you all happiness. And hope you'll finally give me both thumbs up!
Q.B. put down the letter. And, indeed, gave his uncle both thumbs up!
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